Thursday, 27 December 2007

The Wertzone Awards for SF&F Novels in 2007

...although they're likely to be reduced to 'The Werties' for easy reference. Sigh.

I narrowed this list down to the fourteen SF&F books I really enjoyed reading this year.

Best SF&F Novel Released in 2007

. Brasyl by Ian McDonald

I havent read McDonald's prior work, such as his much-acclaimed previous novel, River of Gods (set in India in the 2040s), so came to this book with no expectations other than hearing he wasn't easy to get into. I was pretty much blown away by the twisting, dazzling narrative which relentlessly pursues three separate storylines across three timezones in Brazil's history (past, present, future) and then pulls them together for a satisfying pay-off. The gorgeous prose, the brilliantly-realised atmosphere (you can almost hear the samba) and the author's enjoyment and love of the country, tacky telenovelas and all, makes Brasyl into something very special indeed. If Brasyl does not win the Hugo Award in 2008, something has gone very seriously wrong somewhere.

2. Black Man by Richard Morgan

Retitled Thirteen in the United States, Morgan's latest novel starts off as just another high-octane futuristic thriller and develops into an intellectually robust deconstruction of America and its society whilst building his two main characters into deeply flawed but sympathetic three-dimensional human beings. His trademark cyberpunk ultraviolence is still intact, but tempered here by a tremendous maturing in both writing and character-building. To shamelessly steal William 'Stego' Lexner's comments about the book, Black Man is A Stranger in a Strange Land for the 21st Century.

3. The Long Price: Shadow and Betrayal by Daniel Abraham

Abraham arrived on UK shores in 2007 with this omnibus of A Shadow in Summer (previously publshed by Tor in the USA in 2006) and its sequel, A Betrayal in Winter. With its intelligent worldbuilding, original core concepts and terrific central characters, this was the finest work of fantasy I read in 2007 (or at least the finest work of fantasy that wasn't actually a 2008 release) and immediately drew favourable comparisons with the likes of Guy Gavriel Kay, as an epic fantasy that engages the heart as well at the intellect. Roll on the final two books!

4. Un Lun Dun by Chine Mieville

The notion of the master of the New Weird movement writing a kid's novel may seem slighlty incongruous, but in his adult novels set in the world of Bas-Lag Mieville frequently shows a playful capacity for creating monsters and scaring the hell out of the reader, and he carries these ideas across to the YA field with aplomb. The revisionist sideswipes at Harry Potter are very funny (particularly the main character being told she has to go on seven long and dangerous quests before she can win victory, only to decide that she can't be bothered and 'skips to the last quest') and Mieville's well of trademark barmy-but-scary ideas, concepts and characters shows no sign of drying up any time soon.

5. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The notion of putting a 15-year-old book on this list may seem a little odd, but given that Sapkowski made his English-language debut this year I deemed it appropriate to feature here. Sapkowski's revisiting of old fairy stories through the character of Geralt, the titular 'Witcher', is constantly amusing and highly enjoyable, featuring such highlights as a barkeeper's glee as his bar is destroyed by an enraged genie (he'd had the foresight to take out insurance against supernatural forces) and Geralt's battle with a surreal man-goat thing armed with metal balls. With more than a hint of Jack Vance to the proceedings, The Last Wish is an inventive and enjoyable fantasy collection.

6. The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton

No-one does interstellar, big-budget SF blockbusters like Hamilton, replete with huge space battles, fantastic technology and deeply sympathetic characters (more than any other SF writer, Hamilton seems to suggest that the core of what makes us human will not be changed by advances in technology or our expansion across space). The Dreaming Void is a slight change of pace, focused more on character-building and featuring a long-speculated cross-genre move by Hamilton into epic fantasy in a particularly strong subplot.

7. The Fade by Chris Wooding

Sometimes it's great to read a self-contained fantasy novel which starts, says what it wants, and then gets out without overstaying its welcome. The Fade is such a story, cramming tremendous variety into its modest page count and featuring the most evocative underground environment I've read about in quite some time.

8. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie follows up his accomplished debut with a sequel that turns everything you thought you knew on its head whilst escalating the action and the drama to new heights. Impressive.

9. The Inferior by Peadar O'Guilin

It's eat or be eaten in this Darwinian story of survival amidst a vivid jungle environment whilst the central character develops nicely and a terrific variety of monsters is put on display.

10. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Lynch delivers a sequel to 2006's accomplished The Lies of Locke Lamora which starts off by retreading old ground and ends on a mildly unforgivable cliche. But in-between we get a very fun story with crackling dialogue and some more inventive cons.

11. Reaper's Gale by Steven Erikson

An improvement on 2006's extremely disappointing The Bonehunters but still rather flawed in places. Erikson manages to deliver another interesting and exciting slice of the Malazan epic with great battles and the deaths of several major characters, which are are well-handled.

12. The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

Reynolds returns to the Revelation Space universe with this compelling SF-noir thriller about a policeman investigating a heinous crime and uncovering a deadly conspiracy which threatens the Glitter Band, the circle of space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone. With some fantastic imagery and, in the Clockmaker, one of the most disturbing SF 'monsters' produced in many years, The Prefect represents Reynolds returning to form.

13. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

As far as epic fantasy debuts go, Rothfuss' is undeniably enjoyable and well-written, although its Harry Potter-for-adults ambitions get a bit wearying after a while, as do some inconsistencies in the plot at the start of the novel. However, the story builds in a satisfying manner and Kvothe is a great protagonist.

14. Cowboy Angels by Paul J. McAuley

2007 was apparently the year that writers finally 'got' how to write quantum SF. Following on from McDonald's Brasyl, Cowboy Angels had a fantastic central concept (the USA extending its cultural imperialism across several parallel universes) that was well and logically-explored. Whilst McAuley is neither a good a prose stylist as McDonald nor as good a thriller writer as Morgan, he nevertheless delivered a servicably entertaining SF action adventure with some thought-provoking ideas in this novel.


Anonymous said...

Great list there Wert, I really enjoyed reading that. Seems like I missed out on some good reads such as Brasyl, the second of Abercrombie (although I wasn't too impressed with his debut novel) and the Mieville. I have Abraham on my to-read stack. I hope to finish reading Black Man and Last Wish for this year's end.

Once again, thanks for the 'coverage'. Have you not read Acacia (Durham) or The Terror (Simmons) this year by the way? Or did you consider them weaker efforts compared to these?

Adam Whitehead said...

No, but they're both on the to-buy pile. The Terror, especially, since it should be out in mmpb soon.

Ed S. said...

I was similarly not happy with the ending of the Lynch book.

I enjoyed River of Gods although I have yet to read Brasyl which is in the pile.

Black Man I'll disagree on. I thought it a failure as a story although all the Bloggers like yourself seem to love it. I'll write this off as mass hysteria. The Amazon UK reviewer who referred to it as an "underwhelming bloated thriller" I think hit the nail on the head most accurately.

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds was a good read but at the same time somehow unsatisfying and I can't quite put my finger on why.

Joe Abercrombie is great and I am much looking forward to his third title in March. He's still quite under appreciated, especially in the US I think where his books have been slow to appear.

It's good to see the different titles on the different lists that are being posted. It's a sign of a lot of good reading available. In a bad year everyone has the same titles.

Ian Sales said...

I'm puzzled: why pick novels as best of the year that are "cliched", "flawed" or "wearying"? Are you saying that the best fantasy can do is, well, not actually very good?

Adam Whitehead said...

For fantasy, it was perhaps an above-average year but nothing to get really excited about. Nothing in the subgenre made me get up and go, "Woah!" the way SF did with Black Man and Brasyl, which was a shame.

The other problem is that due to exceptional circumstances the number of books I read this year was low: those fourteen books represent most of the 2007 releases I read, from the fantastic to the middling (the truly bad books, such as Robson's Selling Out, I left off the list).

Anonymous said...

Nice List.

p.s the link on No3 goes to the wrong review.

Adam Whitehead said...

Thanks, and it's fixed.

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing The Last Wish popping up on best of lists on various blogs. I'm going to have to give it a look...